During the 2009 fishing season, more than 400,000 anglers (resident and nonresident) made more than a million saltwater fishing trips in Maine.

How did the Department of Marine Resources (DMR) come up with these numbers? Well, the DMR didn’t come up with these figures on our own. The department works with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) on its Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) to generate these figures.

There is a good chance that many of you reading this have received calls or have been interviewed by our staff about your fishing trips.

The Marine Recreational Information Program is conducted in all U.S. coastal states by the national fisheries service to establish a reliable database for estimating the effects of recreational fishing on marine resources. Regional fishery management councils, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, as well as federal and state resource agencies use this information to formulate fishery management plans and to predict and evaluate the impact of fishery regulations.

The MRIP consists of two complementary surveys. One is a random telephone survey of households in coastal counties inquiring about their saltwater fishing activities. The information gathered from these calls is used to estimate the number of saltwater angler trips.

This survey is conducted by a contractor and has had a history of problems associated with it. The issues were such that Congress mandated the NMFS to form a federal and state registry/license in order to clean up these problems by Jan. 1, 2010. Basically this registry/license (hope you have signed up with the feds) is a list of names and pertinent information that would produce a “phonebook of saltwater anglers” from which telephone surveys will be conducted.

The second survey is an intercept survey of anglers at access sites (this is the portion conducted by the Maine department) to estimate catch rates and species composition. In the intercept survey, data are collected from anglers who fish from the shore and from boats.

Estimates generated from this survey include: total number of fish caught, released and harvested; the weight of the harvest; total number of angler trips; and number of people participating in marine recreational fishing.

The Department of Marine Resources assumed responsibility for the Maine intercept survey because we believed we could greatly improve the accuracy and quantity of the information collected. Further, the DMR was able to increase the number of angler interviews collected during the season several-fold beyond the NMFS requirements for Maine, giving us a significantly improved database that generates more precise estimates.

What are the nuts and bolts of the field survey work? During the May 1 through Oct. 31 sampling season, we interview anglers at launching ramps, marinas, docks, beaches, jetties and other coastal fishing access sites from Kittery to Eastport.

Before the sampling season begins, each site is assigned a rating as to how many anglers we can expect to find there on a weekday and on a weekend. All the sites with their activity ratings are then entered into a statistical program that spits out where we go on what day. Sites that have higher ratings are apt to come up more often than those with low ratings. For example, that may be why you see us at Meetinghouse Eddy and Morse Cove more often than you would encounter us at Calais on the St. Croix.

What can you expect if you run into one of our interviewers? If you happen to be fishing at a shore spot or returning to a launch site that has been chosen for us to sample that day, you can expect to be greeted by one of DMR’s friendly interviewers. These people are easily recognized as they will be wearing shirts or jackets and hats with the DMR logo and will be carrying an assortment of materials including a measuring board, clipboard and scales.

After a brief introduction you will be asked if you would like to participate in this voluntary survey. If you reply in the positive, which I hope you will, you will be asked a short series of questions. Basically, we are trying to find out how many saltwater fishing trips you took in the last two months, during the last year, where you fished and where you live.

Also, if you have any fish, we would like to weigh and measure those. This step is very important because the more fish we can see, measure and weigh, the better the catch estimates will be. In addition to standard questions, we are also asking economic questions to access what people are spending to go saltwater fishing.

After the interviewer has collected the above information you will be offered a copy of our current saltwater regulations and a 2010 tide chart. We have found that many anglers ask their own questions and these interactions are mutually beneficial. The interview process is painless, involves a small amount of time and generates big research results.

If you are interested in the complete MRIP 2009 results, including striped bass catches, feel free to contact me at 633-9505 or go to www.maine.gov/dmr/recreational/rechomepage.html.

It is sad to say this will be the last Outdoors column for 2010. Thanks for all the support and have a great winter.

This saltwater report is by Bruce Joule, Maine Department of Marine Resources, P.O. Box 8, West Boothbay Harbor 04575. He can be contacted at 633-9505 or by e-mail at:

[email protected]